The applicability of ERS-1 wind and wave data for wave models was studied using the WAM third generation wave model and SEASAT altimeter, scatterometer and SAR data. A series of global wave hindcasts is made for the surface stress and surface wind fields by assimilation of scatterometer data for the full 96-day SEASAT and also for two wind field analyses for shorter periods by assimilation with the higher resolution ECMWF T63 model and by subjective analysis methods. It is found that wave models respond very sensitively to inconsistencies in wind field analyses and therefore provide a valuable data validation tool. Comparisons between SEASAT SAR image spectra and theoretical SAR spectra derived from the hindcast wave spectra by Monte Carlo simulations yield good overall agreement for 32 cases representing a wide variety of wave conditions. It is concluded that SAR wave imaging is sufficiently well understood to apply SAR image spectra with confidence for wave studies if supported by realistic wave models and theoretical computations of the strongly nonlinear mapping of the wave spectrum into the SAR image spectrum. A closed nonlinear integral expression for this spectral mapping relation is derived which avoids the inherent statistical errors of Monte Carlo computations and may prove to be more efficient numerically.